If you're into macro photography, the cost of Helicon Focus could be money well spent
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Helicon Focus makes 3D macro close-ups

March 28, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   I'm always looking for photo-editing software that can perform minor miracles, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw in a new program from a Ukrainian company, Helicon Soft. It's called Helicon Focus, and what it can do for macro photography is amazing.
   Macro photography used to be something only flower lovers knew about. But these days just about every digital camera has a "macro" button or a similar control that changes the lens so it can focus very close -- almost up to the surface of the lens itself. Naturally, this doesn't do much for pictures of your dog's nose, but it's great for photos of flowers and butterflies.
   And bugs. For some reason, fans of macro photography like to make incredible closeups of the eyes of -- you guessed it -- bugs. And if you think a mole's-eye view of a bug's sight organs is frightening enough, wait until you see what happens when you turn that view into a rotatable 3D panorama.
   Which is exactly what Helicon Focus can do. You have to buy the Pro or Pro X64 versions of Helicon Focus to get the 3D capability. But if you're into macro photography, the cost could be money well spent.
   All versions of Helicon Focus are available in both Windows and Mac versions from www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfocus. The file you download and install contains all three versions (Lite, Pro and Pro 64) of the program, and the license you buy unlocks the appropriate functions. You get a 30-day free trial with the download.
   Helicon sells time-limited licenses for its software, an odd practice that I find confusing. Helicon Focus Lite, which lacks 3D, costs $30 for a one-year license and $115 for an unlimited license. Helicon Focus Pro, with 3D, costs $55 for a one-year license and $200 for an unlimited one. Helicon Pro X64, with retouching functions as well as 3D, is sold only with an unlimited license for $250.
   This is an amazing program. Helicon describes the software this way: "Helicon Focus is a program that creates one completely focused image from several partially focused images by combining the focused areas." It adds that Helicon focus "is designed for macrophotography, microphotography and hyperfocal landscape photography to cope with the shallow depth-of-field problem."
   Depth of field is that bugaboo that prevents both close and distant objects from being sharp at the same time. By locating the various sharp areas of a range of photos, Helicon Focus is able to combine them into a single sharp image. You also get the option of producing (except in the cheapest version of the program) a 3D image that can be rotated up or down or side to side. (You get a free 3D viewer that works on both Windows and Macs, and you can save 3D animations as standard videos, too.)
   To supply the images Helicon Focus needs, you must take a series of pictures with slightly varying focus distances. (This is actually easier than it sounds and won't take much time.) The software does the rest.
   Landscape photography also benefits from this technique. For an illustrated report on using Helicon Focus in landscape photos, go to www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/Helicon.shtml.